Many (most) websites use Google Analytics (GA) to understand their visitors. Insights from digital analytics tools like GA are even more critical than ever. However, recent years have seen privacy come much more to the fore and the current GA tool was not really keeping pace. A frequent criticism was, that it was difficult to get a complete view of the visitor/customer and derive insights.
As a result, the good folk at Google have created a new, more intelligent Google Analytics, called 'Google Analytics ver4' or ‘GA4'. This new tool builds on the foundation of the App + Web property that Google introduced in beta last year. Interestingly, Google advise that it now includes elements of machine learning. This is meant to deliver automatically more helpful insights and provide a more complete understanding of your web visitors across devices and platforms. It’s also more privacy-centric. Google also says that you will now be able to rely on its analytics even more, as industry changes like restrictions on cookies and identifiers create gaps in your data.
So, what can it do?
The new tool gives more visitor-centric measurement, instead of measurements that were often fragmented across devices or by platforms. The way we are told it does this, is through the use of 'multiple identity spaces’. In essence what this means, is that it uses both marketer-provided and Google ids from users opted into ads, to give you a more complete view of visitor interaction with your website. Another welcome change is that Google has modernised the reporting, so you can much more easily find marketing insights based on the part of the customer journey you’re interested in. For example, you can see what channels are driving new visitors in the user acquisition report, then use the engagement and retention reports to understand the actions they take, and whether they stick around, after converting. You can see an example screenshot below (also click on the link to see an animated walk-though from Google - please be patient it will load in a new tab).
As of this month (November 2020) Google Analytics 4 is now the default analytics tool for new website properties. Google have also advised that this is where they will now invest for any future improvements. This means the current Google Analytics toolset will not be developed further. In fact, we have been told to expect support for the existing GA tool will be withdrawn, but not for at least a year. We also expect that your ‘old’ data will still be there to view and report on in the ‘old’ analytics for some time after that. Because GA4 works in differently, you sadly can't simply import your ‘old’ GA data into the new tool. It's a start again from scratch situation. However, you can run both analytics toolkits in tandem and this what we are recommending for clients (note: this needs to be setup to work). This will allow you to run both tools for the next year giving you at least one years worth of GA4 data to use with its inbuilt reporting period comparisons when the time comes to change.
We think the new tool will directly address some of the issues round the existing Google Analytics toolkit especially with GA4 being more privacy compliant in how it captures and uses data. And as such, it should be welcomed. The minimum one year handover with using data on both tools we also think provides a useful means of ensuring comparison data can be captured, before GA4 finally becomes the only option. We will thus be applying GA4 to all client sites with Google Analytics that we manage. But for now we will still be presenting reports generated from the current GA toolset (unless requested otherwise). Lastly, please note that you should expect there will be likely many updates and changes over the year as Google gets more feedback and we all get more experience in GA4 use. We expect there will be several refinements if Google follows its normal way of working. Hence the reason for staying with current Googel Analytics for now but also equipping for the new version in advance of the change over.